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Saturday, March 28, 2009
SDF gets intercept order
North's launch plan prompts move to deploy missile shield
By ALEX MARTIN
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered the Self-Defense Forces on Friday to shoot down any part of a North Korean rocket that might fall toward Japanese territory.
The order is partly aimed at reducing public fears over what Japan, the United States and South Korea see as a test of Pyongyang's Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, although the hermit state claims it is planning to send a satellite into space aboard a rocket.
With the reclusive state's planned launch expected in little over a week, Prime Minister Taro Aso gave the go-ahead earlier in the day during a Security Council meeting for the defense minister to issue an order based on Article 82-2, Paragraph 3 of the Self-Defense Forces Law.
The provision stipulates that in cases when a ballistic missile or other object is suspected of flying toward Japan, an order may be issued to the SDF beforehand to destroy it.
"If a North Korean projectile threatened our people's safety and security by falling in our airspace, seas or land, obviously we must respond and prepare for the occasion appropriately," Hamada told reporters after giving the order.
Hamada, however, said that if the North indeed launched a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, there is a possibility it will simply fly over Japan, although all precautions must be taken.
"It's very annoying to have something fired over our territory," he said.
As a Taepodong-2 missile is believed to have a range of over 6,000 km and could reach Japan in just a few minutes after launch, any decision to intercept it must be made quickly.
This is the first time the government has issued an order to mobilize its ¥800 billion missile defense shield.
When asked by a reporter during a meeting the same day why the government decided to disclose its plans, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said it was done for the public's benefit.
"We received no notification last time," Kawamura said, referring to the North's previous failed test of a Taepodong-2 in 2006.
"But this time we have been officially notified, and we wanted to reduce as much public anxiety over the launch by explaining how we plan to respond," he said.
Pyongyang earlier announced its intentions to send a rocket carrying a satellite from its Musudan-ri launchpad sometime between April 4 and 8, and has advised the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization of the coordinates where the first two stages of the three-stage rocket may fall.
The first designated area lies in the Sea of Japan off the Tohoko region, while the second stage was expected to fall in the mid-Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.
Based on Friday's order, the government will move two Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor batteries to Akita and Iwate prefectures to shoot down possible rocket fragments that may fall on the area. Three more PAC-3s will be stationed in and around Tokyo to protect the capital.
Two Aegis warships, the destroyers Chokai and Kongo, armed with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors, are expected to be deployed in the Sea of Japan to detect and track the rocket, and intercept it if necessary.
The government has not disclosed the exact dates by when the deployment will be completed, but said it would take place "immediately."
Government officials later told reporters during a briefing that they also planned to install Em-Net, an emergency alarm service aimed to inform prefectural governments, municipalities and other related institutions on information regarding the launch. All municipalities of Akita and Iwate prefectures, as well as a majority nationwide, are to have the system installed before the launch.
The officials stressed, however, that such precautions are solely meant to respond to emergencies.
"We believe there is only a slight possibility the rocket or its fragments will fall on our territory," a government official said.